The thing about stress is that we weren’t meant to live with it day in and day out; our bodies weren’t built to withstand constant stress, they were built to endure it in spurts. Our physiological response to stress enabled us to survive actual life-threatening danger. It’s our body’s “fight or flight” mechanism controlled by our adrenal glands which enabled us to get away from an attacking animal or flash storm. But here in North America, many of us are enduring a different type of stress which doesn’t seem to go away; the stress caused by the modern challenges of life, of being so busy and juggling so many priorities while trying to maintain relationships. It can be exhausting at times, but should you find yourself exhausted most of the time, you might have adrenal fatigue or burnout.
When we are exposed to a perceived stressor, our adrenals release stress hormones into the bloodstream which enable us to physically and mentally deal with the threat and survive. If our perception is that everything is a stressor, our adrenals work overtime, constantly secreting hormones and eventually becoming exhausted. If we could retrain our brains to perceive most of these day-to-day occurrences as not being stressful, then our adrenals could relax a little, and see us through until we actually need them.
How do you know when you’ve pushed your adrenals too far?
Some common symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include:
- Insomnia (including waking up often early in the morning ~ 4 am)
- Irritability (easily startled)
- Digestive disorders
- PMS (including cravings & other hormone disorders)
- Weight gain (especially belly fat)
- Blood pressure swings (when standing up too quickly you get light-headed)
- Neck and shoulder tension/stiffness
- Perfectionism (difficulty relaxing)
- Addictions (to cigarettes & caffeine especially)
The adrenals are tied to many health issues because they contribute to overall hormone imbalance. They are linked to blood sugar swings (improper insulin function), reproductive disorders, mental health issues, and thyroid conditions, among others.
So what can you do if you suspect your adrenals are fatigued?
The following nutrients are the most protective of the adrenals, whether they are already exhausted or on their way:
- B vitamins especially vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), best taken as part of a B-complex
- Vitamin C
- Adaptogens (types of herbs) such as Ashwagandha or Siberian ginseng
Aside from nutrients, there are also lifestyle practices that can soothe the adrenals. Stress really is a matter of the mind. Training the brain to be mindful is imperative if you suffer from adrenal fatigue. Make 2014 more about meditation, yoga, hiking, running, walking, sitting in nature, laughter or anything that helps you unplug and practice mindfulness, in order to calm the adrenals and change your reaction to “perceived” stress. I know for myself, I had to practice asking the question, “What’s the worst that will happen?” when faced with something that made my heart race. Many times the process of answering the question made me realize that something wasn’t as stressful as I had once thought. Obviously doesn’t work for every situation especially serious ones that actually call for a “fight or flight” response, but for many of the smaller things life throws your way, it might help you gain perspective. If you are suffering from chronic stress and would like assistance modifying your diet and/or lifestyle practices, please book an appointment with our naturopath today.